We went to visit Scicli because of its fame as the location of Montalabano’s Vigata. But even if you’re not a Montalbano fan, it’s a town worth spending time in. Dating back to the Bronze Age, Scicli is a tenacious town that has risen from the ashes. Along with seven other towns in the region, it was devastated by the earthquake of 1693. The silver lining was that it got to rebuild itself and many of the Baroque-style buildings it boasts today owe their grandeur to that earthquake.
The first thing to strike me about the place is that its church doors are open. This is such a rarity. So many places I visit only open their churches shortly before mass. With three wishes in every church I visited for the first time, I had to throw the notion of catalogue prayer (only asking for something once) out the window. I began to repeat myself.
Scicli is often overlooked with other Sicilian towns and cities attracting more tourists. But back in the mid-900s, the city was a major centre of trade harbouring ships from Africa and Malta and many other countries. Having had its share of visitors who overstayed their welcome – Arabs, Normans, Spaniards – it wasn’t united in the Kingdom of Italy until the mid-1800s.
I’m a huge fan of stone. And the colours of stone. Here, as in Malta, the sun was dancing off the walls creating that golden hue that goes so well with the green leaves of the orange trees and, dare I say it, the verdant weeds. It’s a great town to wander around. The coffee is good, the cannoli even better, and it’s all so reasonably priced. If you could live on coffee and cannoli, this would be the place to retire to on a budget.
As part of our Agire tour of four key adjacent sights in the town, we visited the Palazzo Spadaro. It’s a beautifully preserved example of what life must have been like for the nobility back in the day. It pales when set against other palazzos. those belonging to families a couple of rungs higher on the social ladder than the Spardaros but I thought it rather lovely. One of the rooms in particular caught my attention. Not because of the chandeliers or the frescos, but because of the sign noting that it had been named after two chaps called Falcone and Borsellino.
Giovanni Falcone was an Italian judge and prosecuting magistrate. From his office in the Palace of Justice in Palermo, he spent most of his professional life trying to overthrow the power of the Sicilian Mafia. After a long and distinguished career, culminating in the Maxi Trial in 1986–1987, on 23 May 1992, Falcone was assassinated by the Corleonesi Mafia in the Capaci bombing, on the A29 motorway near the town of Capaci.
His life parallels that of his close friend Paolo Borsellino. They both spent their early years in the same neighbourhood in Palermo. Though many of their childhood friends grew up in the Mafia background, both men fought on the other side of the war as prosecuting magistrates. They were both killed in 1992, a few months apart.
Later, in the cemetery, we’d see the grave of another fallen comrade, Garofalo Vincenzo. All three received the Italian Medaglia d’oro al valore civile (Gold medal for civil valour).
The fourth stop on our tour was the Chiesa di Santa Teresa. In all honesty, had it not been part of the tour, I’d not have bothered. And I think far too many others visiting Scicli might have thought the same. But what I would have missed. The place is amazing. From the black-and-white tiled floor to the stunning crucifix where the nails in Our Lord’s hands and feet have been replaced with flowers, it is quite something. It’s no longer used as a church. Instead, it has become a repository for frescos saved from other churches in the region.
I was particularly taken by the Madonna and Child and the chain. I’d never seen such an image of Mary and hadn’t heard of the devotion to Our Lady of the Chain, a favourite for those suffering from any kind of addiction. Devotion to her originated in Palermo, back in 1392 when Martin I (aka Martin the Younger) reigned over Sicily. Three young men were condemned to death by hanging. As they were being walked to their death, the skies darkened and a massive storm broke out. The guards and the lads found refuge in the Church of St Mary of the Port. With the execution postponed until the next day, the prisoners were chained with extra chains and the church doors securely locked.
That night, the guards that were on duty fell asleep and the three young condemned men found themselves at the foot of an Image of the Blessed Virgin Mary. They prayed fervently for deliverance. While they were praying, the chains mysteriously fell to the ground. The doors of the Church opened by themselves, and they heard these words coming from the Image of the Blessed Virgin: ‘Go, you are free, do not fear. The Divine Infant Whom I hold in my arms, has heard your prayers and has granted your freedom‘.” The young men silently walked out of the Church.
Yet another reason to visit Palermo. Another oddity was the huge hands on some of the women in the frescos. Apparently, back in the day, artists would paint hands to mirror the depth of a person’s devotion. Who knew.
What to see next time
There was so much more to see, but time wasn’t on our side. For next time though (and there will be a next time), I’ve already made my list.
- The Church of San Matteo, perched on one of the three hills of Scicli, San Matteo, Santa Croce, and San Domenico
- Palazzo Fava, with its balconies and their wrought-iron balconies that bulge outwards to accommodate the wide expanse of ladies’ dresses back in the day
- The caves of Chiafura and specifically to a Rutta ri Ron Carmelu
- The monastery of Santa Maria della Croce
Scicli is a town too often overlooked as tourists make their way to Modica and Ragusa, two better-known towns in the region. But it’s firmly on my list of places to revisit. And to stay awhile.